Truth is, a 330d is already pleasing in rear-wheel drive form. The 335d xDrive seeks to add additional performance, and a bit of year-round four-wheel drive usability that, most of the time, in most of the UK, you don’t really need, but what the heck.
In normal conditions, the torque is split 40:60 front to rear, but there’s a multi-plate clutch on the gearbox that can pitch nearly all the power (99 per cent on the graphics BMW showed us) to either the front or the back axle, whereupon the stability control will slow one spinning wheel, to allow that power to reach to the other side. The power goes to where the grip and traction is, in short.
Does it work? It does, and although the opportunities to test it to its fullest in July in Britain are limited, I found a sloping, wet-grassed field to try it out. A wet, grassy incline is to a rear-drive BMW on low-profile tyres what a Teflon pan is to a frying egg, but the system is pretty adept.
You could just buy winter or all-season tyres for poorer conditions, of course, but 4WD will improve the 3-series as a tow car, I’m confident. And it helps traction out of damp roundabouts, too.
In normal driving, then? Most of the time you won’t notice the difference from a rear-driven BMW. Perhaps the front feels a little more leaden because there’s more weight there, and some of it unsprung. Plus in slow corners or when manoeuvring there’s not quite the response you expect because the front wheels are coping with power.
Calling it understeer makes it sound dramatic when really it isn’t. It’s just that, if you’re familiar with rear-drive BMWs, there’s the occasional reminder that the xDrive version isn’t so consistently responsive to steering inputs.
But that’s by the by. This is a stonking car. The economy is very good, the engine smooth and quiet, the gearbox intelligent and the refinement first class. And the performance is so easy to access, it’s breathtaking. This car is exceptionally easy to get along with.